Disparities in the Criminal Justice System

Gang Injunctions and Sentencing Enhancements

Source: LAPD, 2013

Source: LAPD, 2013

In the early 1980s, in response to growing concerns about gang violence, jurisdictions in Southern California created the nation’s first gang injunctions—civil court orders against alleged members of a gang (Allan, 2002). Since then, gang injunctions have become increasingly popular in California, with more than 40 injunction zones in Los Angeles City alone, and much of Central L.A. covered in active zones (Los Angeles City Attorney, 2014; see the map to the right). The injunctions prohibit alleged gang members within set geographic areas (“safety zones”) from engaging in otherwise legal activities, such as associating with other alleged members, being in public at night, and/or carrying a cell phone.

A person need not have been convicted or even arrested to be added to a gang injunction list, and those on the list may be arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated for violations of an injunction, as well as stopped and questioned for suspected violations. Youth Justice Coalition (2012) analysis of California’s database of alleged gang members found that 66 percent of those included are Latino. Of Latinos aged 20 to 24 in Los Angeles County, 3.5 percent were in the database, compared with 0.3 percent of their white peers.

Critics of injunctions have pointed to their disparate impact on blacks and Latinos, the related possibility that they violate the right to equal protection under the law or other civil liberties, and the difficulty of getting removed from the gang database or an injunction list (Castro, 2011; Wang, 2007; Caldwell, 2010; Crawford, 2009). They have also stated that the “safety zones” named under these injunctions are not the areas with the most gang crime, but those in or adjacent to higher income neighborhoods, white neighborhoods, and neighborhoods about to undergo gentrification (Barajas, 2007; Arnold, 2011).

Gang injunctions can lead to longer sentences for those named by injunctions than for others convicted of the same crimes. Under California law, those who commit crimes “in association with” gangs face terms of incarceration in addition to those for the offense itself, known as enhancements (Cal. Penal Code § 186.22). About 7 percent of people in a California prison are serving extra time due to a gang enhancement, and for almost half of them, that time is ten years or more (Alarcón, 2015). Over 90 percent of prisoners with gang enhancements are Latino or black.

Works Cited

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